Writing Superheroes: Lizzy Drake

When she’s quiet, she’s plotting word domination. Read on and find out more…

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According to Wikipedia, ‘a superhero is a type of heroic character possessing extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers and is dedicated to a moral goal or protecting the public.’ Sounds like a writer to me!

Join me as another one of these unsung superheroes invites into their personal ‘batcave’.


If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

That is too funny. My early work is very different. I used to (and still do) write children’s folk tales and legends and the odd teen fiction novel under the name Holly Stacey. My early work features a heavy lean on ancient folklore and Celtic myth and legend. Of course, my first novel is still unpublished and someday I may pull it out and re-write it completely.

My writing took a big turn when I wrote my first historical fiction (Blood Tide by Holly Stacey) for high school students studying black history. I became enamoured with historical fiction and decided to change my focus.

Author photo seriousAll superheroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

 Hmmm. Mild mannered? I’m either hiding against a wall if there are people around, or I’m shouting out, making a complete fool of myself (like jumping up and screaming ‘Tudors, Tudors, whoooooo!’ at the last Historical Novel Society held in London, 2014). Sadly, there has never been an in-between for me. My close friends know that if I’m quiet, it’s because I’m plotting. They only think it’s for the next book historical mystery book and not world domination…

As for the ‘non-writer’ me, I’m a bit of Passepartout – I’ve done just about everything for paid (legal) employment. I used to be an archaeologist (I have two degrees in the subject and excavated with various teams in the US and the UK) and now I’m a full time mum, property manager, DIY gal, jeweller, and gardener. Jobs in the past have included factory work, lifeguard, sales assistant, museum educator and tour guide, teacher, publisher and editor.

Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My husband is pretty good at helping out about the house while I’m running about the place with my nutty projects and writing deadlines. He’s also an ace at helping out with the back cover blurb which is my personal kryptonite.

Where do you get your superpowers from?

The artsy side of my personality comes from my mother’s line… her grandfather was one of Walt Disney’s first artists (and he used to be an architect before he ran away to Burbank to join Disney’s team). I’ve recently been shown his folder of sketches and stories. It turns out he was a pretty good writer too. My grandmother was also an English teacher; yeah, I suppose she’s been encouraging me to produce books since I could hold a pencil.

Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

 Well, there is the secret lair in my head and the secret lair in reality. One day they will merge, but for now my lair is my writing tower. It’s about fifty flights of stony steps that wind up the north wing of the castle. Only I know how to unlock the door and the key is pretty heavy, but it keeps me fit with all those stairs and key lifting. Once there, I use lightning as inspiration during every thunderstorm…

But when I’m not ascending those stony steps, I’m in my dining room-cum-office where I’ve taken over completely and lined the walls with reference books, histfic and tapestries.

What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

What do you mean used for good?! I write murder mysteries… there is body upon body and complete carnage. I once used to use my powers for good. Well, no, sorry. Even when I wrote children’s books the folklore was on the darker side where the Fey were abducting children (but they get away in the end, I swear). Hmmm… I may need therapy.

Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

Oh, I wear it everyday – it looks just like Queen Catherine of Aragon’s dresses. Of course, wearing a farthingale can make ascending my writing tower tricky sometimes. Then there are the odd days when I decide to be either a Victorian or Richard III babe. That really confuses the postman.

 What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

 Kryptonite is spelled with a k? *Glances nervously around*

What was the supervillain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

 There are so many villains. I refuse to acknowledge them as super. They are more like rubbish villains. Self-doubt is the biggest one. And then there was the odd little problem of my pen name being taken when I was mid-production of my début book. I had to cancel the title, beg the cover artist to change the name for me and then re-submit the book with all the necessary changes. Then I had to change my website, facebook and author page details. *grumbles something inaudible and takes a slug of spiced mead*

What important lessons have you learned along the way?

 Put your author name out there with a published short story or novella (KDP it and don’t just do an anthology where the name might not get mentioned or be visible enough) and get your amazon author page published before another writer can nab it.

What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

Drafting the book in three months after 12 months of dedicated research. I’ve written many novels (only some published) but that was the fastest, most fluid writing I’d ever done. Happily, my beta readers came back with nothing but positives and asked when book 2 would be out.

If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

Not a thing. Except for the author name. I still cry over that.

What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

Goodness, I’ve been given so much good author advice, it’s difficult to pick just one. I’ve been writing forever and as a child I wanted to be a published writer (and an archaeologist) so I have often followed other authors around with pleading cries for advice. When I met Ray Bradbury, he looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Nice T-Shirt, I love Taz’; but when he saw my friend’s shirt (A Faith No More tee), he frowned and looked away. It was then that I realized that authors are pretty odd and wearing the right outfit for the right author was important if you wanted to get a nice comment in your copy of Fahrenheit 451. So, thanks Ray, for the indirect advice.

Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

It’s Tudor. It’s a murder mystery. Really, that would be enough for die hard fans of the genre, but for those who haven’t yet discovered how much fun Tudor murder mysteries are, here are some more sweet seductions… I’ve not set this in the usual Elizabethan era, it’s Henry VIII’s early years when Catherine of Aragon was still the love of his life and also Regent as he was away fighting in France. The country could be invaded at any moment by the Scots and life for Elspet Stafford is just one disaster after another. Her fiancé is reported dead, she is shipped to a distant relation’s bedraggled manor where his harpy of a mother (the Dowager Duchess Lettice) manages to make enemies at every turn. Until that is, she meets Elspet and the two clever women have a meeting of minds over the dead body on the doorstep.

The title of the book gives a little away: A Corpse in Cipher includes at least one corpse. And many ciphers.

What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

Yes, Elspet Stafford has been summoned to Catherine’s court and there is yet another murder (I know, it’s like she’s a stab-magnet). Both Elspet and the Dowager will need to be vigilant if they want to survive this one, especially at Framlingham Castle where the stairs at steep and slippy. Gosh, I hope they make it to book 3…



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